By Jesse Wood
Dec. 17, 2014. Retiring after more than three decades, Watauga County Register of Deeds Jo Ann Townsend was honored by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners with a resolution thanking Townsend for her public service to the citizens of the county.
Townsend will retire on Jan. 31 and hopes to work with her successor next month in order to ensure a smooth transition.
She first began working in the office in a part-time fashion in 1979, when former Register of Deeds Phyllis Foster hired a young Townsend looking for work. Townsend said she worked part-time at the office for about six or eight months. It wasn’t until January 1983, when the county’s budget afforded another full-time position in the office, that Foster hired Townsend again.
“I was glad. At the time I was raising and family and it seemed like a perfect fit,” Townsend recalled.
The county would see another Register of Deeds before Townsend was elected in 2004. Townsend said Wanda Scott was elected in 1992, serving 12 years at the helm until Townsend took over.
When she first started, office staff handwrote and typed records, indexing them twice each week.
“You can’t imagine doing that now with the current volume,” Townsend said. “Now, we index as soon as the document is recorded. Just scanning, we don’t touch paper as much as we did. We record immediately … and then it’s available immediately for the public to view. It used to be up to a week before the public could actually see the document.”
In a letter announcing her retirement to Watauga County Board of Commissioner Chair Jimmy Hodges, Townsend thanked her predecessors for the opportunity and the citizens for “entrusting” her to serve. She also noted achievements made within the office during her tenure.
“I am proud of the many accomplishments made in the office during this time including making indexes and images available on the county website from 1872 to the present, the redaction of drivers license and social security numbers from records as required by law, acceptance of credit and debit cards, participation in the electronic birth registration system, allowing us to issue birth certificates of those born since 1971 anywhere in North Carolina, electronic filing of documents and the ability to request vital records over a secure website using a credit card for payment,” Townsend wrote.
Stressing the importance of the Office of Register of Deeds, Townsend said that the department covers all of the vital records – births, deaths and marriages – for Watauga Citizens from the time they are born until the time they die. She also noted that her office covers military discharges, all the records of the notary publics and all the records pertaining to real estate transactions.
At the meeting on Tuesday when she was recognized by the commissioners, Townsend said, “We are truly a public service. I appreciate Watauga County and citizens for allowing me to work in the Register of Deeds office and allowing me to serve as Register of Deeds. There are a lot of important records house in the Register of Deeds office and it drives business here in Watauga.”
As for what she will do in retirement? Townsend said her husband retired as a lineman from Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation last year and she has four grandchildren from the ages of 8 months old to 12 years old waiting to be spoiled by grandma.
And while she said she’s still passionate about her job and maintaining the records of the history of the county, Townsend said, “I just feel like it’s time.”